By Yarone Arbel
The EuroBasket champs from Greece successfully started their campaign to defend the title with a 76-66 win over Israel in the second game of Group A tonight in Granada.
Israel, coming into the game with some huge momentum from the additional qualifying round, put up a big fight against the title-holders.
Greece couldn't put their opponents away until the final quarter, when they caught fire
from long range, connecting on five of seven three-point shots at one point.
|Israel's Yotam Halperin had 20 points in the loss.|
They came to EuroBasket without the injured Antonis Fotsis and feared it might affect the team's performance, but tonight they had nothing to worry about.
The team's two other power forwards – Kostas Tsartsaris and Demos Dikoudis - combined for 30 points on 66% shooting from the field, 11 rebounds and two blocks. The former stepped up in the last quarter with two crucial baskets from beyond the arc.
"I'm very disappointed on one side but very proud of us on the other," said Israel's forward Ido Kozikaro, who scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds. "We gave a lot of effort, but we came too short."
Greece left a lot of sweat on court, but they knew it was going to be a tough game. "We knew from the start Israel are a team of fighters and this is what happened," said Tsartsaris after the game.
It took Israel almost three minutes to get its first points on the board, and by then Greece already led 7-0.
Jeron Roberts woke the challengers with five points in a row, and his seventh point was followed by Yotam Halperin's three-pointer to give Israel their first lead of the night.
Greece though answered with four points in a row to take a 19-15 lead after 10 minutes, but Halperin was just getting warmed up.
He added seven points, and together with a great job in the paint by Yaniv Green, helped Israel take a surprising 31-28 lead with a little under a minute left in the half. Tsartsaris though converted a three-point play to send the teams to the locker room tied at 31 a piece.
"Our point was to be very patient. This was the key for the win today," revealed the winning coach Panagiotis Yannakis after the game, and the second half set an example of that mentality.
Greece were two for 11 from long range at the break, but rediscovered their touch in the second half.
Halperin made it 42-40 to the Israeli side with 3:38 to play in the third, but for the next 11 minutes the Greek defense clamped down on their opponents.
On the offensive end, Yannakis' gang hit just about everything from downtown. When the score was tied at 46-46, Dimitrios Diamantidis hit a three-pointer which started a rain of three's by Greece.
"For 30 minutes it was a close game, but in the last quarter we created a gap and kept it until the end," said Tsartsaris, but was very gentle in his analysis.
His team hit five three-pointers - all by different players - out of six attempts in a span of 4:30 minutes, to take a seven-point lead. Tsartsaris followed Diamantidis and saw Diamanthidis Ntikoudis, Theodoros Papaloukas and Vasileios Spanoulis follow on from them.
After Spanoulis broke the "trend" with a two-point shot, Papaloukas hit another long bomb to make it a 66-59 game for Greece.
Israel didn't give up just yet as Halperin converted another three-point play to cut the deficit to four, only for Tsartsaris to hit from long range line once again with 2:28 to play. The shot took whatever spirit Israel had left and seal the game.
Greece will take on Serbia tomorrow in an attempt to clinch a place for the next round, while Israel will face Russia.